Editorial: Intolerant Indonesia
The face of our nation is intolerance; if not now then in the near future, as long as leaders and society continue to pretend that all is fine except for a few flaws.
A survey on inter-group relations released on Monday reported that almost 70 percent of 2,220 respondents in 23 provinces agreed that it was “better not” to allow residents of different faiths to build places of worship in their neighborhood.
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies said that while 83.4 percent of respondents said that they had no problem with having neighbors from different ethnic groups, less than 60 percent said they felt the same about neighbors from different faiths.
The survey report follows the announcement on Sunday by the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam) that from January to April this year, there were eight cases of rights violations against Indonesian Christians. Another human rights NGO, the Setara Institute, reported that throughout 2011 there were 244 violations of freedom of religion, with most, 144 incidences, targeting the Ahmadiyah denomination, and 54 targeting Christians.
Last week we heard of the latest “sharia-inspired” ordinance in Tasikmalaya, West Java; the bylaw on “Community Values Based on Muslim Teachings”. The National Commission for Violence Against Women reported in December that the nation had over 150 bylaws deemed “discriminatory” to minorities. However, the Home Ministry stated that the bylaws, which were mostly on “public order”, still fell within the authority of regional governments.
This apparent state condoning of intolerance may have deepened the Muslim majority’s sense of acceptance of policies and actions reflecting religious identity — though researchers have cited the role of politicians seeking the Islamic vote in pushing “sharia” bylaws. Meanwhile, rights activists have said such bylaws have been used to justify violence against minorities.
Further, even though the Criminal Code clearly outlaws public expressions of “enmity, hatred or insult” against peoples of different ethnicity, race, religion or origin, reports continued in May of Muslims insulting and hurling urine at Christians in Bekasi, east of the capital. Last year members of the Ahmadiyah group were murdered in Banten; in December crowds razed the property of a minority Shiite group. We know that most Indonesians do not tolerate violence. But how many accept the arguments that these incidents were “last-resort” measures to defend Islam?
Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) last month that despite some problems, member countries still considered Indonesia an open, tolerant and democratic society.
Yet one of the commission’s recommendations stated: “The Indonesian government must strengthen efforts to ensure that any assaults against religious minorities are properly investigated and that those responsible are brought to justice.” And now the latest survey suggests that widespread intolerance helps protect the perpetrators.
We disagree with Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Nasaruddin Umar, who regretted the release of the CSIS findings, fearing the impression that the Muslim majority here is responsible for rising intolerance. The problem of intolerance here surely does not lie in Islam nor with the majority of Muslims. But together we must address the issue: Is it politics, ignorance, or what?
Without state authorities drawing a clear line of what it takes to live together peacefully in a diverse nation, expressions of piety, whether genuine or manipulated, will continue at the cost of others’ freedom and security — which we once took for granted.